The numbers related to the growing nursing shortage in the United States are sobering.
About 800,000 registered nurses say they intend to leave the workforce by 2027 due to stress, burnout, or retirement, according to a study released last month by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and the National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers.
For context, 100,000 registered nurses left the workforce during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We talked to leaders of three local healthcare organizations to see how they’re dealing with the ongoing nursing shortage, in terms of both recruiting and retention.
University of Rochester
Every area of the University of Rochester’s Medical Center (URMC) has been impacted by the significant national nursing shortage, according to Dr. Lisa Kitko, who began her role as dean of the University of Rochester’s School of Nursing in the fall of 2022.
In January 2023 the University of Rochester — which is the largest private employer in upstate New York and one of the top ten largest employers in the state — announced an innovative program to help combat the region’s nursing shortage.
The new UR Nursing Scholars Program is a tuition-free, 12-month accelerated bachelor’s degree in Nursing program for college graduates who wish to pursue a new career in nursing.
The program also offers a 1:1 mentorship component and requires a three-year work commitment to select UR Medicine locations.
Kitko said the school had a “great response” to its first call for applicants and that graduates of the program will be “the next generation of leaders we need in nursing.” The first cohort will enroll in Fall 2023 and applications are currently being accepted for the next cohort.
Also new at the university is a career development program, UR Career Pathways, for current staff who want to explore professional opportunities within the organization, including nursing.
The university also offers tuition benefits and full tuition coverage for its nurses for select bachelor’s and master’s nursing programs at the school of nursing and a clinical ladder for advancement, with a recently added new senior level.
Other retention efforts for nurses at URMC include creative and flexible work schedules, pay incentives, robust continuing education opportunities, research and leadership internship programs, recognition programs, and a nursing practice incentive program. All URMC nurses are also voting members of the university’s professional nursing council.
“Knowing you can impact patient outcomes and make someone’s life better,” is what Kitko says has kept her in the nursing field despite its challenges since she graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1990. Before coming to Rochester, she served as associate dean for graduate education and director of the Ph.D. program at the Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing at Penn State University.
St. John’s is a senior living and care provider founded in Rochester in 1899. The organization — which includes St. John’s Home, a nursing home on Highland Ave. — hires a wide range of nursing professionals, including certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, and registered nurses.
“This is one of the more difficult markets we’ve been in,” said Dean Moore, vice president of work/life at St. John’s, about finding and retaining nurses. “The difficulty is there are not enough people in nursing. Every nurse we gain is someone else’s loss in the local healthcare community and vice-versa.”
St. John’s is working hard to try new and creative ways of nursing recruiting and retention, including digital marketing that targets people with certifications they’re looking for. They’ve also initiated salary increases and added new benefits, like telemedicine access for employees through EzaccessMD, and the option of direct pay as you earn through a service called Payactiv.
“We’re doing everything we can think of,” said Moore, who noted St. John’s has also had some success attracting retired nurses for per-diem and part-time clinical roles.
He is hopeful educational systems will become even more creative in how they attract and produce nursing professionals to help with the nursing shortage.
“In Europe, a lot of countries begin training nurses in high school,” Moore said. “High schools here could easily teach certified nursing assistant classes. When you invest in health care pretty much everyone is a winner.”
Rochester Regional Health
“Our health system, just like the rest of the nation and the region, is faced with nursing shortages,” says Kaitlyn Bond, senior director of talent acquisition at Rochester Regional Health. “We’re always looking for new and innovative ways to attract more nurses and enhance the roles of our nurses.”
To that end, Rochester Regional Health has amped up its educational partnerships with a campus recruitment team heavily focused on attracting nursing talent from schools in Rochester, central New York, the Finger Lakes, and Buffalo, Niagara, and St. Lawrence regions.
This spring alone, Rochester Regional Health’s recruitment team has participated in over 70 campus recruitment events. They’ve also begun recruiting outside the domestic United States, where they’ve seen early success with their new Puerto Rico pilot program and international nurse recruitment campaign, Bond said.
Another way Rochester Regional Health is bringing new talent into the nursing pipeline is via its Isabella Graham Hart School of Practical Nursing. The school offers a ten-month, full-time, licensed practical nursing program with many partial to full scholarship opportunities available.
And internally, in April 2023, Rochester Regional Health launched Advance, its U Education Program that supports career mobility for Rochester Regional employees. The program provides 100% upfront tuition coverage to help registered nurses obtain their Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
“We are all about meeting people where they are,” said Dr. Annette Macias-Hoag, who, in March 2023 became the organization’s first executive vice president, chief nursing and patient care officer.
Part of Macias-Hoag’s charge is to bring the voice of nurses to the executive table of Rochester Regional Health, something she has begun doing by starting to visit every hospital and site within the health system to find out what nurses want and need via nursing town halls.
She is also working with staff to make the organization’s electronic health records system more user-friendly and efficient for nurses and to bring retired nurses back to the profession in different roles like consulting.
Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.n